For The Tribune

ST. LEON

The Seymour girls basketball team broke a 2-2 tie with an 11-0 run early in the first quarter and led the rest of the way to defeat Hamilton Heights 55-49 on Thursday afternoon in the first round of the East Central Holiday Tournament.

The Owls, sparked by Lauren James, began firing from beyond the 3-point line early in the game.

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Sara Benefiel’s 3-pointer at 7:01 put the Owls on top for good at 5-2. James hit a pair of 3-pointers around a layup by Kayla Griffin, and Seymour was in command at 13-2 with 4:05 remaining in the opening quarter.

James added two more 3-pointers and a pair of free throws for 14 points in the first quarter, as the Owls increased their lead to 24-12.

“What we wanted to do was push tempo,” Owls coach Jason Longmeier said. “I think an easy way to push tempo is to get some early 3s in transition, which we wanted to do. You even saw it in the second half when they were trailing. They do a good job running their stuff and ran a lot of time off the clock with their possessions, and we didn’t want to get this into the second half a possession-by-possession game.

“We wanted to get in there with a lead so they couldn’t pull the ball out and hold it. With that being said, I also thought there was a stretch where we had some opportunities inside that we didn’t take advantage of because we were a little quick with the 3, and that’s understandable. When you’re shooting the 3 like we were today, it’s easy to come down, and for every one of our girls, the basket looked big, and we were willing to shoot.”

James added nine points in the second quarter, shot 8-for-11 in the first half and netted 23 points during that time, helping the Owls to a 35-22 lead at the break.

Longmeier said he liked the way his team was shooting from the outside.

“In the first half, we were 7-of-15 (3-pointers), and in the second half, we came out and hit a few, but then we had a stretch midway through the third quarter into the early parts of the fourth quarter where we missed four or five in a row,” he said. “We did a good job, especially early, of hitting the three ball.”

The Owls made nine for the game with James hitting five, Ashton Chase two and Benefiel and Megan Ritz one each.

Makenna Fee opened the second-half scoring with a power move to the basket, and Chase added a 3-pointer, as Seymour’s lead expanded to 40-24.

Griffin scored five points, and Ritz hit her 3-pointer in the third quarter to help the Owls take a 48-38 lead into the fourth quarter.

A layup by Griffin gave the Owls a 52-41 lead with six minutes remaining, and the closest the Huskies came after that was the final six-point difference.

The Owls took a lot of time off the clock in the fourth quarter by protecting the lead with a four-corner offense.

James finished with 27 points, missing her career-high of 28 she scored against Silver Creek earlier this season.

Griffin finished with 11 points, and Fee topped the Owls in rebounds with eight.

Kayla Kirtley lead the Huskies (6-5) with 18 points, and she had six rebounds.

“We knew she was good coming in, but she’s better than I thought she was,” Longmeier said. “She really gave us some fits. In the second half, we held her to three points (1-for-7 shooting). The move we made was to put Ashton on her. She’s got just a little more length than L.J. (James), and Ashton is a really good jumper.”

The Owls shot 20-for-43 from the floor for the game, and the Huskies hit 17-for-40.

“We got some easy buckets off their free throw opportunities, which is demoralizing where they would make two free throws, and we would come down in transition and hit,” Longmeier said. “Our free throw break was really good for us today. I thought early on, we were in tune defensively. I thought late, defensively, we weren’t as good as we were in the first half.”

The Owls (10-3) have won three in a row and eight of their last nine games heading into today’s 12:30 p.m. semifinal game against East Central (13-3).

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Arv Koontz is a sports correspondent for The (Seymour) Tribune.